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"Digital Japan" left behind

   In October this year, Japan Post Group launched the "Future Post Office" plan, which will use digital technology to eliminate customers' impression of inconvenient post office services.

  In this plan called "Future", customers can use the "tablet computer used in the window lobby" to self-check the zip code, cost, delivery days, and read the country's postal terms and parcel terms, etc. In addition, Japan Post will promote the electronicization of notices in post office windows in the future to achieve a paperless layout.

  As soon as the news came out, Chinese netizens couldn't help feeling that the above-mentioned measures had been implemented in China for many years, why did Japan regard it as the "future"?

  It may be hard to imagine that Japan, which was once famous all over the world for popular electronic products such as Sony, Sharp, and Toshiba, has an astonishingly low informatization rate, just like its aging population rate, which shows its old age.

Big economies lagging behind in digitization


  To this day, major Japanese manufacturers still launch new flip phones every year. In Japanese TV dramas, the most electronic products in the office are fax machines and landlines besides mobile phones and computers. The Japanese government tried to promote electronic office more than once, but ended in failure. There are both social factors of population aging and industrial influence.

  Japan, which is difficult to informatize, is just the silhouette of the country's electronics industry in recent years. It’s too late, big is not necessarily good. Japan, which used to dominate the global electronics market, failed to catch the Internet industry’s car and was gradually overtaken by latecomers.

  As the Japanese scholar Yoshio Nishimura said in "The Rise and Fall of the Japanese Electronics Industry", Japanese business managers and technicians indulged in past successes, and the company failed to become Apple or Hon Hai in the end.

  Objectively speaking, the "poor" of Japan's digitalization is not so unbearable, but that it does not match its economic status. The "2020 United Nations E-Government Survey Report" shows that Japan's EGDI (E-Government Development Index) ranks 14th in the world, a decrease of 4 places compared with two years ago; in September of the same year, Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs released "2020 National Cyber ​​Capability Index", Japan barely ranks among the top 10 in the world.

  Japan's digital road can be described as getting up early and catching up late. At the turn of the century, in the face of the turbulent Internet tide, the then Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori established the "IT Strategy Headquarters", issued the "IT Basic Law", and proposed the "IT National" and "E-Janpan" strategies, which will develop e-commerce, Promote the construction of information technology as the goal, and made an oath to build Japan into the world's most advanced IT country within 5 years.

  However, Yoshiro Mori, who has entered his sixtieth year, has a very limited understanding of electronics. Self-deprecating as "computer illiteracy", he once mistook the "IT revolution" for "it (English it) revolution" in public, and Yoshiro Mori's governance goals were also wiped out with his hasty resignation within a year.

  For more than ten years since then, the Japanese government has never achieved any results in promoting electronic and digitalization. In 2012, Shinzo Abe became prime minister again. His 8 years in office were also the 8 years when the world Internet achieved leapfrog development, but Japan was obviously lagging behind.


  Japan's digital road can be described as getting up early and catching up late.


Flip phones frequently appear in Japanese animation works


  In "Abenomics," digitization did not initially feature prominently. In the "Basic Guidelines for Economic and Fiscal Operations and Reforms" issued by the Japanese Cabinet, between 2016 and 2018, there were no more than 10 expressions about "digitalization"; until 2019 and 2020, the term "digitalization" was mentioned The frequency has increased significantly.

  In 2020, the then Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga established the post of "Minister of Digital Affairs" in the cabinet, and also established a special administrative agency, the Digital Agency, expecting it to become "the command tower of the Japanese government's electronic administration." According to the "Nihon Keizai Shimbun" report, 78% of the respondents support the establishment of a digital hall. However, judging from the results of the past two years, apart from promoting the government to no longer only recognize seals in administrative procedures, the Digital Agency has not made more achievements in helping Japan achieve digital transformation.

Reform in the era of epidemics is hindered


  Under the impact of the epidemic, the low degree of electronicization has also brought many troubles to the Japanese people.

  In the 1980s, Japan had already popularized fax machines with integrated sending and receiving. Even when the epidemic hit, Tokyo was still using the old fax method to confirm the number of confirmed cases of the new crown, which added a lot of workload and reduced the efficiency of fighting the epidemic.


  Japanese companies, which have a serious path dependence on the "artisan spirit", are resistant to the division of labor.


  According to NHK reports, for about two months from November 2020, 18 health centers in Tokyo have missed a total of 838 confirmed cases due to reasons such as "fax machines failed to send successfully" and "staff forgot to confirm".

  In order to stimulate the Japanese economy, the Japanese government plans to issue a subsidy of 100,000 yen (about 6,500 yuan) to each citizen. Although Japanese people can apply for collection through the Internet, after the application is completed, they still need to print the paper version and submit it by hand. Therefore, it is inevitable that there will be scenes of people getting together to go to government departments to handle the application.

  According to statistics, in 2019 before the epidemic, only 7.5% of the approximately 55,000 administrative procedures in Japan's central administrative department could be completed online; after the epidemic, this number has increased, but the proportion is only 12%.

  In April 2021, feeling that it was difficult for government staff to send and receive faxes when working from home, Taro Kono, the Minister in charge of administrative reform at the time, proposed that all central government departments in Japan should abolish the outdated fax machines for office work as soon as possible and use email instead. Pass the file.

  This proposition was immediately opposed by various departments. Among the 400 objections, some were out of leak prevention considerations, and some directly stated that they would not use e-mail. Such a swarm of opposition made this round of reforms finally come to nothing.

  On August 31 this year, Kono Taro, who has been transferred to the digital minister, announced on Twitter that he "declared war on floppy disks." Kono Taro said that there are about 1,900 administrative procedures in Japan today, requiring applicants to use completely outdated information storage media such as floppy disks or CDs to submit application forms. To this end, Japan will change the regulations as soon as possible and build an online platform so that people can submit online.

  For the U disk whose capacity is often calculated in TB, a floppy disk with a capacity of only 1.44M has been difficult to keep up with the needs of the times. Even Sony stopped producing floppy disks in 2011. Nevertheless, some staff expressed opposition to changing the regulations, believing that floppy disks are more reliable than various storage media today, and many users are unwilling to replace floppy disks that have been used all year round.
  In addition to government departments, the Japanese business community is also struggling with digitalization. Starting in 2021, Mizuho Bank, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, Mitsubishi Bank, etc. have successively charged handling fees ranging from 550 to 1,100 yen for paper passbooks for newly opened accounts, hoping to promote the electronic passbook business.

Japanese stamp culture
"Success is the mother of failure"

  The most direct reason behind Japan's resistance to promoting electronicization is aging. The 2020 national census (i.e. census) data shows that Japan's population over the age of 65 accounts for 28.6% of the total population, and the number of elderly people hit a new high.
  In an aging Japan, not only the general elderly do not understand electronic technology, but even the bureaucrats in charge of this matter have almost no understanding of electronic technology.
  In 2018, Yoshitaka Sakurada, the then 68-year-old Olympic minister, said when facing questions from members of parliament that he usually asked his secretary or his staff to operate the computer, "I have never used a computer." As soon as this remark came out, public opinion was in an uproar—because another identity of Sakurada was the person in charge of cybersecurity legislation.

On October 19, 2020, a local temple in Tokyo held a "memorial service" for a seal that was no longer used by a company

  In addition to aging, the decline of the electronics industry has also kept Japan away from the road of digitalization of society. In 1991, Japan was in the boom period of the bubble economy. NHK broadcast a documentary titled "Electronic Nation - Autobiography of Japan" at that time, proudly announcing that electronic products are another powerful foreign exchange earner for Japan after automobiles .
  However, under the impact of successive financial crises, the prosperity of this industry has ceased to shine. In 2013, with the bankruptcy of Elpida, known as the last hope of Japan's DRAM (Dynamic Random Access Memory), Renesas Electronics was also in trouble. Japan, which once made a huge contribution to foreign exchange reserves with a trade surplus of 10 trillion yen, The electronics industry, Japan's electronics industry, which once caused trade frictions around the world due to its overselling products, has completely transformed into a trade deficit, without any trace of its former glory.
  Nishimura Yoshio believes that the Japanese electronics industry once swept the world with "high quality and low price" products, and then the industry as a whole has not come out of this success. "Perhaps it can be said that success is the mother of failure." This is like the United Kingdom, which relied on steam power to become the technological overlord in the first industrial revolution, but lost its opportunity in the era of internal combustion engines in the second industrial revolution.
  Japan, which advocates the "artisan spirit", has achieved the ultimate quality of single products, and durability was once an important label of Japanese electronic products. Since the new millennium, the division of labor between design and manufacturing has become an inevitable trend in the electronics industry. However, Japanese companies, which are heavily dependent on the "craftsman spirit", are resistant to the division of labor and stubbornly insist on vertical alliances and independent operations. In Nishimura Yoshio's view, this is also a reason for the decline of the Japanese electronics industry.
  Japan, which has lost the glory of the electronics industry, is struggling on the road to digitalization. Even if Japan is determined to promote digitalization, the country lacks cheap and reliable domestic hardware to support it.
  As Yoshio Nishimura said, only when business managers and technicians no longer indulge in past successes, or place their hopes on young people who have not experienced these successes, can it be possible to reproduce yesterday's glory. According to this idea, for Japan's digitalization, perhaps only when more and more young people who have enjoyed the digital dividend join the bureaucratic system, "Digital Japan" will no longer be out of reach.


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